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Shady planes and shipwrecks



MoldovianPropIn the spring of 2001 I was doing work on a Jesus Film blitz in Eastern Europe and traveled to four countries during a 12-day span. One of the places I found myself in was a small country called Moldova. After completing the assignment, my traveling companion and I boarded our plane to fly over to Ukraine. The airline of our choice was the country’s flagship carrier out of the capital city of Chisnau, (yeah, it sounds just like it’s spelled) called Moldovian Air. To give you an idea of the size of the country, airport, and national airline, today Moldovian Air boasts one plane in its fleet. But when I flew Moldovian 15 years ago they had three planes, so they were pretty big-time back in the day.

The little engine that couldn’t.

We took off around 7:30 in the morning and about 15 minutes into the 90-minute flight the one flight attendant began serving breakfast and everyone was settling in. Five minutes later it got really quiet. The kind of quiet you don’t want when flying 20,000 feet above the ground. Curious as to the lack of noise, I looked to my left and saw the propeller wasn’t moving. Quickly I looked over to my right and was thankful to see the propeller on that side of the aircraft was still actually moving.

MoldovianMealNoticing how the flight attendant didn’t miss a beat and continued to serve breakfast and pass out Moldovian Air chocolate bars, I thought maybe they save fuel by only running one engine once they got to cruising altitude so perhaps this is normal. Everything else I’d encountered in the former Soviet Union was backwards so why not fly with just one engine? The other thought I had was that she knew we were going to crash and that we might as well go out with a full stomach of airplane food and the taste of chocolate in our mouths.

Fast forward 30 minutes and a new pair of pants, we made it back to Chisnau where the runway was lined with all three of the city’s fire trucks and both ambulances. After using the entire runway to finally come to a stop we were safely back on solid ground. When we stepped off the plane I noticed the entire left side of the aircraft was covered in oil, which meant the aircraft had blown an engine.

The other plane I flew on that made it only because of my prayers.

After being placed in a temporary holding room they put us on board one of their other two remaining aircraft to get us to our destination. My seat was next to the exit door and when I sat down I noticed the door was half open and we were getting close to taking off. I thought surely someone will come check to make sure the door was closed but that never happened so I took matters into my own hands and sealed the door shut myself. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “Pray without ceasing” and for the duration of the second flight while sitting next to what I figured was a faulty exit door that was going to blow open any minute and suck me out of my seat and into the great wide open, I was fully obedient to that biblical command.

After disembarking the first aircraft with the bum engine I found a corner in our holding room, put myself in a fetal position and sucked my thumb. The second to last thing I wanted to do was get on another airplane. The very last thing I wanted to do was stay in Moldova. Facing those two choices I opted for the plane ride. Then I had to close the emergency exit door and began to rethink if I had made the right choice. But here I am today so you can relax knowing how the story ended.

Recently I was reading in 2 Corinthians 11 where Paul talks about all the perils he faced. One of the threats he mentions is “dangers at sea.” The Greek word he uses is “kindunos,” which means extremely dangerous. Paul knew it was extremely dangerous to travel by sea and could write with a high level of authority on this topic seeing how he was shipwrecked three times. I had a hard enough time getting back on a plane and I wasn’t even in an actual crash. Plus my one ordeal was only 30 minutes of actual flying time without an engine. Luke’s account of one of the three shipwrecks that Paul was part of goes like this:

“The ship was caught by the storm … and we took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day [day two of being in the storm] they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for MANY days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.”

Not the actual boat Paul was on.

Last night I happened to catch the last 20 minutes of the movie, The Perfect Storm, a movie about the boat Andrea Gail being caught by two huge storms that converged together and then on top of them. The boat and all the crew were lost at sea but the movie depicts what it would have been like as the waves overtook the boat and ultimately took their lives. I couldn’t help but think this was what it would have been like for Paul, Luke, and the others that were traveling.

Having had the above-mentioned airplane experience I can understand why someone who has been in an actual plane crash would be hesitant to get back on one. I could also understand if, after his first shipwreck, Paul never got on a boat again. Certainly after a second voyage that turned into a swim, one could undoubtedly sympathize with Paul if he never got back on a sea vessel. Then a third time?! I’d have to start thinking I was the problem if every time I got on a boat it went down. And if I were a friend of Paul’s I certainly wouldn’t get on a boat with the fella. “Sure I’ll travel with you Paul. You know what, why don’t you take the one that leaves tomorrow, I need to wash my sheep’s hair and I’ll catch one a little later.”

In a devotion written by Rick Renner he says,

“I’m sure these devilish attacks at sea were designed to put such a fear of sailing in Paul that he would never get back on another ship. But if Paul was going to get to the various places where God had called him to minster, he had no choice. Therefore, he didn’t allow these occurrences to determine whether or not he obeyed God. Even if it meant he had to get back on another ship and sail through dangerous waters again, he’d do it, if that was required of him, in order to successfully fulfill his God-given assignment in life.”

He goes on to say, “It takes guts to do the will of God. You have to be totally convinced of what God has told you, or the devil will throw enough blockades in your way to make you turn around and permanently go back home.”

Life is challenging. Job, marriage, parenting, it takes work to be determined to see it through to the end. I feel like I’ve been shipwrecked a few times in life and also recognize I need to do a better job of jumping back on board the ship after I get tossed. I want to demonstrate to my wife and kids that I’m committed to God’s call on my life, committed to my marriage and committed to raising my two daughters and two sons in a godly way.

There’s only one way to live and that’s to go all in. And the only way I know to do that is to have complete reliance on God. We’ll be hit by waves and want to give up at times, but if, like Paul, we stay true to the end, we’ll also be able to say like he did, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8 ESV) I can hear Paul yelling encouragement to us, “Keeping battling. It’s worth it!”

This post first appeared in the Noah Gets A Nailgun blog, © 2015. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading Todd Nagel’s guest post, “Shady planes and shipwrecks,” on the Stepping Up blog.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistThe difficulties endured because of her husband’s martyrdom led Elizabeth Elliot to spiritual maturity.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistGod Has Not Forgotten You is a 31-day devotional for handling the shady planes and shipwrecks of life.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistTell fellow men, dads, and husbands about the Noah Gets a Nailgun blog. John and Todd post excellent stuff.

Eric Liddell: More than a runner



Eric LiddellI’ve been researching some of Eric Liddell’s life for a new product at FamilyLife (more about that at the end of the post). One of the things that struck me about his life was the surprising number of parallels with Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

  • Both wrote a book about discipleship.
  • Both focused on the needs of others while in a prison camp.
  • Both were in prison camps because of circumstances surrounding World War II.
  • Both died in prison just a few months apart.
  • Both gave up opportunities to save themselves for the sake of others.
  • Both cared more about obedience to Christ than wealth or fame.

Most who have heard the name Eric Liddell only know of his “Chariots of Fire” fame, which highlights his Olympic success, and very public stance not to run on Sunday. But many are less familiar with the fascinating second half of his life. After his Olympic success he went on to serve as a missionary in China, eventually dying in a prison camp. And like Bonhoeffer, he lived an incredibly selfless life, and four stories in particular highlight this reality.

Story #1: The Spirit, not the Letter

Liddell was famous for his stance on keeping the Sabbath holy. He would not run races that were held on Sunday, which was a significant part of the plot of Chariots of Fire, and most probably the reason why his story became so well known. (Can you name any other Olympians from the 1924 games?) But the following story speaks to Liddell’s spiritual maturity and shows how he knew when to hold to the letter of this conviction, and when to hold to the spirit of it.

Throughout these difficult years, Liddell maintained his belief that Sundays should be reserved for God. But when teenagers got into a fight during a hockey match, Eric – to the astonishment of those who knew of his famous stand at the 1924 Olympics – agreed to referee the game on the following Sabbath. Joyce Stranks, who was a seventeen-year-old fellow internee, said that Eric,

“…came to the feeling that a need existed, [and] it was the Christlike thing to do to let them play with the equipment and to be with them … because it was more Christlike to do it than to [follow] the letter of the law and let them run amok by themselves. And for me that was very interesting because it was the one thing, of course, everyone remembers about Eric [that he would not run on Sunday because the Sabbath was the Lord’s Day].” (P82)

Every man, and every young man has to strive to know when to hold to the letter and when to hold to the Spirit of the law. It’s a difficult balance, but one that a mature man strives for through the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

Story #2: Hold on Loosely

Eric’s sincere Christian faith was everywhere on display. Stephen Metcalf, who was seventeen in 1944, remembered one remarkable incident. Metcalf’s shoes had completely worn out. One day Eric came to him with something wrapped up in cloth.

“Steve,” he said, “I see that you have no shoes, and it’s winter. Perhaps you can use these.” Eric pushed the bundle into Steve’s hands. “They were his running shoes,” Metcalf says. We can only imagine that Eric had been saving the historic shoes as a memento of his past triumphs, but in the difficult conditions of the internment camp, their practical value to this young man far outweighed their sentimental value to Eric. (P83)

Possessions are fleeting. We need to hold loosely to things, even the sentimental items to which the world ascribes great wealth. What do you have that others need that you can let go of? Try to identify one thing today you can give away and encourage your kids to do so as well. Bonus points if it’s an old pair of your running shoes from the Olympics.

Story #3: Women and Children First

I mentioned above, that one of the parallels between Liddell’s life and Bonhoeffer’s was that they both turned down opportunities to leave prison in order to protect others. Bonhoeffer stayed in prison, even though he could have escaped, because he knew his family would have suffered if he had escaped. Liddell’s situation was a little different, but he still was thinking of others first:

…63 years after Eric’s death, just before the Beijing Olympic Games, the Chinese government revealed something that even Eric’s family didn’t know: Eric had been included in a prisoner exchange deal between Japan and Britain but had given up his place to a pregnant woman. (P86)

Part of me isn’t sure how to feel about this, knowing he had a wife and children to care for. But of course, the other side of me is inspired and moved to live sacrificially as a result of his example. Either way, there’s no doubt Liddell was an amazing man, firmly committed to Christ, and active in his love of others. How can you put the women and children in your life first?

Story #4: A Life Honoring to God

I love it when there’s so much more to a story than what the popular versions reveal. The things that occurred in Liddell’s life after the Olympics are really some of the most fascinating parts. And the general testimony of his life is a great encouragement. Especially his commitment to the daily discipline of spending time with God. Even while in the prison camp. One of his fellow prisoners observed the following (All quotes come from chapter three of Eric Metaxas’ book 7 Men and the Secret of their Greatness):

“No matter how busy he was, Eric never neglected his daily time with God. Each morning, Eric and his friend Joe Cotterill woke early and quietly pursued their devotions together by the light of a peanut-oil lamp for beginning a long day of work.” (P82)

There are many days I find myself tired, frustrated, and scatterbrained. And I often lament having not spent personal time in Bible study and prayer. Sometimes I even blame it on busyness. But it’s a great encouragement to know that even a man in a prison camp kept this a priority. If he can, so can I.

Share With Your Children!

Men need encouragement, and children need examples. The life of the man featured in this post provides both. Read his story, and then take time to read portions to your family. There’re some powerful lessons in here about what it means to be a mature Christ follower, things I hope my kids and I learn. Try answering some of the questions above and see if you can’t apply his life to yours this week.

Final Note: Passport2Identity

As mentioned at the onset, FamilyLife has a new product forthcoming called Passport2Identity™ (due out March of 2016). Designed as a follow up to Passport2Purity®, it equips parents to help their 14-16 year old children navigate the teen years. I mention it here because we have a feature in session two of the version for young men (there’s a separate version for young women) on the life of Eric Liddell.

© 2015 by John Majors. Used with permission.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Eric Liddell: More than a runner,” by guest writer John Majors on the Stepping Up blog.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistTo get more details, listen to an extended podcast version of Liddell’s life story on SoundCloud.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistKeep your eyes open for the March 2016 release of Passport2Identity. It will be announced on FamilyLife.com.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistIn the meantime, if you have a pre-teen son, why not plan a Passport2Purity getaway together.

Awful advice from Mister Wonderful



MrWonderfulSharkTankIf you’ve ever watched the show Shark Tank then you’re familiar with Kevin O’Leary, or as he calls himself, “Mister Wonderful.” Even though he plays it up a bit for the cameras, he’s still pretty much a cold-blooded, shrewd and self-absorbed person who loves money more than anything else in this world. If that last sentence was your first introduction to Mr. Wonderful then I’m sure I sound a bit harsh. In a recent article he was asked what it takes for him to pick an entrepreneur to work with and his answer will shed additional light on his worldview:

“Any entrepreneur on my team needs to understand that the goal is always cash flow, and they must be willing to do anything to keep the money rolling in. I don’t care if that means missing your kid’s birthday party or your 25th anniversary for an important business meeting.”

He explains further the philosophy for this attitude: “The reason you pursue an entrepreneurial career is to one day provide financial freedom for yourself and your family. The only way to achieve freedom in your career is by amassing wealth and the only way for entrepreneurs to reach this point is by giving their full devotion to growing their business, accepting all of the sacrifices that come with the approach.”

At the present moment the guy’s worth $300 million. I’m not sure how much you need in the bank to reach his definition of “financial freedom for yourself and your family” but I would probably say $300 million would suffice. I’d even be content with $299 million, personally. Yet he keeps missing birthdays and anniversaries for this so called freedom.

In a way I feel sorry for him. At some point he’ll look back on his life and wonder what the purpose of it was. He gave his life for amassing cash but in the end there’s no way to spend it all, and having destroyed his relationships with his kids, wife, and perhaps a friend or two, there’s nobody to enjoy it with. On the outside he looks like he’s living the dream with fancy cars, big houses, private jets, but on the inside it has to be so empty. God did not create us to be fulfilled by these things.

Solomon, in addition to being the wisest man ever, was also one of the wealthiest men to ever live. He says in Ecclesiastes 2:10-11,

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

Note to self: When we run after things that are not part of God’s plan for our lives we will find ourselves empty and grasping after air.

After reading the article, it made me take a quick inventory of my life. Kevin’s trying to accumulate money, what am I running after? He’s willing to miss birthdays and anniversaries, and he certainly wouldn’t blink an eye at missing his kid’s sporting events or recitals. Are there things in my life – job, hobby, “needed downtime” – that are causing me to miss out on the same things he is? Even though I’m not pursing money like he is, are there other things in my life that I’m going after that need some re-calibration?

When it comes right down to it, this life is about relationships. Having a healthy and growing marriage, having a deep relationship with my kids, living life with other people, that’s way more valuable than anything else out there.

This post originally appeared in the Noah Gets a Nailgun blog© 2015. Used with permission.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished Todd Nagel’s post, “Awful advice from Mister Wonderful,” on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWhat are you running after? Adding to the bank account? A bigger retirement? Or enjoying your family?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistSometimes it’s not having more money but “Managing the Family Finances better.” Hear the broadcast.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistShare this post with another father and husband, and challenge each other to review your priorities.

Finding Noah



Holt Condren was 37 years old when he felt God calling him to a unique quest. It wasn’t just a quest that was different than anything he’d ever done. It was a quest that has captivated men for millenia.

He wanted to join in the expedition to find the remains of Noah’s Ark.

Holt had never climbed a large mountain, much less one like 17,000-foot Mount Ararat. He knew almost nothing about previous expeditions. He just knew that God was calling him. In fact, he didn’t even know that a group of guys had been actively searching for the Ark every year since the 1980s.

FindingNoahTeamMen like Dr. Randall Price, senior archaeologist and Director of the Center for Judaic Studies at Liberty University. He’s been on these expeditions since 2009.  Men like Bill and Will Hughes, a father-son team who take care of the mechanical needs. Men like John Bryant, an expert in geophysical modeling, brought in to operate and interpret data from ground-penetrating radar (GPR) equipment being hauled up the mountain. Men like lead mountaineer Kevin DeVries, who has already conquered the highest peaks on five continents. There are also men like expedition planner Steve Rudd, geologist Don Patton, architect Bruce Hall, and one of the founders of the modern Noah’s Ark search, Dick Bright, who has personally made over 30 expeditions.

The documentary, Finding Noah, follows the 2013 quest of Holt and his fellow Ark hunters as they use state-of-the-art methods and technology and old-fashioned perseverance to finally lay hold of physical evidence from a story not just in the Bible, but part of almost every culture across the world. With each successive exploration, information has led them nearer and nearer to what they believe to be the exact resting place of Noah’s Ark (or at least some of it). This time, they are operating with hopefulness like never before, and the documentary reveals to the public the results of their search and the sacrifices they made in the process—life-threatening weather, politically-unstable surroundings, treacherous landscapes and oxygen-starved altitudes.

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Finding Noah is a one-day event in hundreds of theaters in virtually every state on Friday, October 8. The film website directs you on how to find a showing near you or to buy tickets.

A quest for adventure isn’t the only thing these men have in common. Each has been driven individually by his faith in the veracity of God’s word that the Ark isn’t just a fable. They believe that finding the remains will be perhaps the greatest historical find in the history of the world, and will have huge ramifications in the realms of science, faith and elsewhere.

“I think there’s so much evidence that it’s irresponsible not to look,” says Patton.

“The past five years has really been a mirror into my soul. Why am I doing this year after year? Why am I risking life and limb to look for something that we have no conclusive evidence actually exists?,” asks DeVries.

These men are also driven by a mission bigger than themselves, and the fellowship of other men drawn to that same goal. In the process, they are learning the limits of themselves and the need to rely on other men to keep them going when the last bit of their own strength and resolve is virtually gone. It requires faith in your co-laborers, as well as faith in your calling in the midst of fear, Condren says.

“Without faith, it’s impossible to please God. It takes courage to exercise faith. In my own life, I almost see fear is a trail marker for life direction. What am I scared to do here in this moment? Faith is moving toward it. Sometimes it’s a small thing. But those are also courageous things.

“If you want to walk this ambitious life that God created you for, what does it look [like] to move, [to] take a step toward your fear — being courageous one step at a time — then watch God knock down the walls and give you opportunities like He’s given me to go and search for Noah’s Ark.  There’s no telling what God will do in your life if you’ll be courageous in the little things.”

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

My worst fan letter ever



Each week, Jeff Kemp releases a new video featuring a thought from his new book, Facing The Blitz. You can sign up to receive the weekly video, which also includes self-reflection questions and action points on how to apply the principles to your life. Here’s this week’s offering, “Worst Fan Letter,” just to whet your appetite.

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In 1986 I had been quarterbacking the San Francisco 49ers for the couple months that Joe Montana had been injured.  I then injured my hip and Joe made a miraculous mid-season recovery from back surgery.  When he was about to return to the line-up, I received this “fan letter.”  Or so I thought.

“Dear Jeff,

I know that when Joe Montana comes back, you will probably feel like you were shoveled off to the side.  Don’t worry.  You should feel lucky that you even got to play on Joe’s team.  He’s the greatest quarterback to ever play the game …”

The letter went on and on about how great Joe was. As I read along, I was surprised that the guy asked me for my autograph. It would have been more appropriate to the letter, had he asked me to get Joe’s autograph and send it to him.

After asking me a few more questions about how amazing Joe is, the end of his letter cracked me up.

“P.S. You’re not as bad as some people might say.”

My lessons from this letter:

  1. Laugh at yourself.  If you can’t, you’re taking yourself way too seriously.  That won’t be good for you or those who live with you!
  2. Don’t compare yourself to others.  Don’t try to imitate them.  Be yourself.  Be the best self you can be, but be you.
  3. Don’t play for the applause or the fans.  Play for the ultimate audience.  Live for the audience of ONE  Jesus.  God is the one audience we should aim to always please.  His perfection calls for the highest standards.  His love accepts us even when we fall miserably short.  His glory is deserved and appropriate.  Ours is short-lived and foolish.

“Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Romans 12:3b NLT).

The reality is that most of us aren’t first string or hall of fame; we feel like backups a lot of the time. But your value is determined by your character and your relationships, not your fame or your status.

Don’t let the blitz of comparison beat you down. Look around and make it your goal to make others feel like first string. Lifting others up will help you feel like more than just a back-up player. Be the best you can be. And remember, you’re the only dad or husband that somebody will ever know.

Quote:

“Reality must be faced. We are not what we do, whom we work for, or who the public sees us to be. We’re persons with spirits, souls, personalities, emotions, stories, wounds, fears, virtues, strengths, and weaknesses. To understand these things about ourselves is to know ourselves. We become free to live at peace with others, to live with contentment, not dependent upon circumstances, and to handle the losses in life — including the loss of certain dreams.”

Facing the Blitz, Strategy #1: Take a Long-Term View

The Playbook:

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).

 Time-Out:

  • Do you measure yourself by what you accomplish and how people view you?
  • What’s one way you would live differently if you didn’t worry so much about what people thought of you?

Go Deep:

You can discover more on how to create a big vision out of broken dreams in chapter 3 of Facing the Blitz.

Deflating your ego



FootballsDeflatedJeffKemp
Few quarterbacks have dominated the NFL like Tom Brady. In his 13 full seasons, he has led the New England Patriots to four Super Bowl titles.  What he may lack in raw talent, he makes up for in hard work. He watches lots of game film and pays attention to detail on and off the field, which is a common character quality of someone who performs at the highest level like he does.

But now the reputation of the reigning Super Bowl MVP is tarnished, with the league recently announcing that he will be suspended for the first four games of the upcoming season for participating in the deflating of footballs in the first half of the AFC championship game.

Breaking the rules, as the NFL has claimed, may not have been the most damaging thing Tom Brady did. He may not have even been suspended if he had admitted early on to his involvement (whatever that was) and apologized to the league for his indiscretion.  Instead he allowed his agent to speak for him and deny even knowing of a scandal.

But after spending months reviewing the evidence surrounding the “DeflateGate” scandal, the NFL found enough in text messages to confidently say that Brady was involved in some way. And now public opinion has turned against him, with about 70 percent of avid football fans believing Brady cheated.

Let’s face it: if you don’t take the blame for your own mistakes (as small or as big as they may be) other people will spend their time, effort, and energy putting the blame on you. I learned that lesson in my last year with the Seattle Seahawks and gained a great appreciation for the importance of accepting responsibility. Even though I wasn’t involved in a cheating scandal or at the center of some controversy, the incident did involve my integrity.

I was the starting quarterback with the Seattle Seahawks and we had just suffered a 20-13 loss in an important game with Kansas City. In press interviews after the game, rather than own up to my shortcomings, I chose to play the optimist. “We’re going to do better next week; we’re going to turn the corner and go forward.”

It wasn’t until later in the week that I realized the damage that I had done. Eugene Robinson, a great friend and teammate, came up to me and told me privately, “Dude, a bunch of the coaches and defensive guys are questioning whether you’re a stand-up guy or an excuse maker. They don’t think you’re owning up to your responsibility for that loss.”

Their criticism wasn’t aimed at my skills or performance, but at who I am—my character. As I wrote in my book, Facing the Blitz:

They thought that, in my optimism, I’d left the blame with the team instead of taking my part in it. Not only had I contributed to the loss, it seemed I wasn’t being an accountable and trustworthy leader.

I felt misread and misjudged. I decided to talk privately to a couple of the defensive coaches who reportedly held these concerns. I told them I was my own worst critic and knew I’d fallen way short of what we needed to win. I knew I’d played a major role in our loss. … My team wanted to hear that I understood my role in our loss. My play wasn’t the only reason we lost, but they needed to see that, first, I got it, and second, I was willing to take the heat, not simply leave it with my teammates and coaches.

The bottom-line issue isn’t the results of your actions as much as what it says about your character. Whether it’s me playing down my part in a loss or Tom Brady refusing to admit even an awareness of the team fudging on league rules, the ends still don’t justify the means.

Another NFL great quarterback recently weighed in on the “DeflateGate” controversy. Brett Favre believes that even if Tom Brady broke the rules it wasn’t really cheating because it didn’t affect the outcome of the game. He was just doing what everyone else does—trying to get a competitive edge.

A common philosophy in the world, and in the world of professional sports is, “If you’re not getting caught every once in a while, you’re not working hard enough.” It’s ironic that someone as good as Brady would feel a need to do something that has so little impact on the outcome of the game to gain a competitive advantage.

Deflating your ego

Maybe an even bigger issue is what happens when you make it to the top of the heap, or the top of the league. You begin to believe the hype that everything depends on you. You may even begin to see yourself as a special case. You then justify actions that for most everyday people would be indefensible.

American society invites a pride and hubris in its successful people, and that is reflected in how Tom Brady and his agent have continued to oppose the NFL investigation. Pride and hubris aren’t attractive to the public. Pride lets you think you can do things differently because you think you are special. It’s easy to get sidetracked when you’re in the spotlight and when you’re trying to keep up expectations as the being the best. But Scripture brings us back to reality:

“Pride comes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before the fall.”—Proverbs 16:18

“Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.”—2 Timothy 2:5

But then there’s another scriptural reminder than keeps us from pointing the finger too much at others.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”—Galatians 6:1

My teammate Eugene Robinson helped me to open my eyes and see the impact of my actions. Issues like “DeflateGate” help us check our own character to see if we are cutting corners, cheating, or taking ethical shortcuts. And it’s a great opportunity to teach our kids valuable lessons about integrity and humility.

Passing along the faith



NavyChaplainCorpsPlaqueAs dads, we have a spiritual and moral responsibility to teach our children right from wrong. We look for opportunities to turn life events into teaching moments. Sometimes that might require a lecture or strong admonition when they get off course.  But what our daughters and sons get from years of preaching isn’t as rich as what they learn when they see how we respond in the midst of a crisis of conviction. It’s in those times that theoretical truths become living realities.

Last week, 14-year-old James Modder was a frontline witness to one of those times where life and truth collide on the battlefield of conviction. It was the day his father, Chaplain Wes Modder was relieved of his duties. James went with his dad to help him remove his personal effects from his chaplain’s office. That day and the preceding months must have been a hard time for father, son, and the whole family.

Back in December, Chaplain Modder was hit with a number of grievances related to his private counseling sessions with sailors. The essence of the complaints centered on Modder’s biblical conviction on matters related to sexuality, marriage, and gender roles. The Assemblies of God chaplain counsels based on standards from the Word of God, which has been increasingly running afoul of military policies on gender and sexual inclusion.

Chaplain Modder admits that in one-on-one counseling and pastoral care sessions that he expressed his beliefs that “sexual acts outside of marriage are contrary to biblical teaching; and homosexual behavior is contrary to biblical teaching; and homosexual orientation or temptation, as distinct from conduct, is not sin.”

And now, he has been temporarily relieved of his duties, and the Navy has asked that he be barred from promotion, fired as chaplain, and brought before a board of inquiry, where he could face expulsion from the Navy.

Chaplain Modder’s ministry is not just something that he came by on his own. He is the recipient of a rich legacy of Christian service that included his grandparents and his great grandfather, all missionaries to India. And given what his family is seeing now, that legacy is poised to pass on to the five Modder children, including James, the only son. Wes Modder is passing along the faith.

As Wes Modder was driving away from cleaning out his office, his son told him about numerous officers who had privately spoken to the son that afternoon.  “They told my son that ‘you can be proud of your father because he’s keeping the faith,'” Modder said. “The whole command knows that Chaplain Modder is keeping the faith.”

Chaplain Modder will teach his son many things over the years.  But showing that nothing—even your job—is more important than your faith?  That’s a lesson that will last a lifetime.

© 2015 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading Scott Williams’ post “Passing along the faith” on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklist“Values Are Your Most Important Parenting Tool.” They come through in your actions. Read the article.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistDennis Rainey’s worksheet helps you in “Determining Your Core Values.” Start a family legacy today.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistTim Kimmel talks about “Raising Kids for True Greatness” on the FamilyLife Today radio broadcast

Stepping Up in space



Stepping Up in space

Barry “Butch” Wilmore aboard the International Space Station (Photo by NASA)

Barry “Butch” Wilmore is captain of the International Space Station, where he’s spending several months conducting experiments, doing repairs, and increasing the capabilities of the station.

One of the other interesting things Wilmore did was to finish a personal study of the Stepping Up men’s material, which he found to be both empowering and challenging in his personal life. 

Wilmore recently talked with FamilyLife Today hosts Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine about his time in the space station, focusing mostly on spiritual matters, like his mentoring ministry, his role as a father and daily experiencing the awesome creation of his Heavenly Father. 

This is an excerpt of the transcript from the February 6 broadcast. Click the link, “Life Aboard the Space Station,” If you want to hear the entire broadcast. 

Dennis Rainey: Captain Wilmore, you have done a number of deployments in your service for the Navy. You have any coaching for dads who travel a lot?  Maybe, they don’t go to outer space, but they’re gone three or four days a week or a good number of days throughout the month—any coaching for them about caring for their wives and their children in the midst of that?

Barry Wilmore: I think the thing that I would say from my standpoint—and what I’ve tried to do myself—is always think about biblical principles—you know, raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and teach them God’s Word.

That’s what I do with my daughters, and that’s what my wife and I do together.

I think a big part of that is preparing, especially when the children are younger—I’ve got a seven-year-old and a ten-year-old. We did a great deal of preparation for this separation time—discussing it and talking about it. My number one message to my daughters, and I even say it when I call them now, is: “Help Mommy.” We also—my wife homeschools—so, the follow-up slogan to that is: “Help your teacher. The principal may be out of town for a while, but he’s coming back!”  [Laughter]

Dennis: So, that’s a setup. Do you want to say anything to those girls of yours?—any words from Daddy to a daughter?  I know you get to talk to them too, but here is a chance to both brag on them and exhort them with a few hundred thousand, if not a million, listeners across the country.

Barry: Yes, both of my daughters are taking piano lessons—my youngest just started. I want you to know, girls—Darren and Logan—Daddy loves—loves—to hear you play the piano. I thank you when you practice, and I thank you when you play over the phone so I can even hear you from here—so, thank you for that. I want you to know that Daddy is very proud of both of you. And I also want you to know that the slogan is the same in this message too: “Help Mommy / help your teacher.”  [Laughter]

Dennis: Well said by a dad. Way to go!  Is there a question you’d like to be asked that’s a favorite question for you to answer?

Barry: I think, you know, it’s less about me / more about my Lord is where I would try to orient any question: “What drives you?”—maybe. What really, truly drives me is my desire to live according to what the Lord has laid out in His Word that we should do—

—and to glorify Him—and that’s the main driver. So, that would be the question: “What drives you?” and that’s the answer.

Stepping Up in space

Astronauts Terry Virts and Butch Willmore from the US, and Samantha Christoforetti of Italy. (Photo by NASA)

Bob Lepine: You have time in your schedule to include spiritual disciplines and to keep your spiritual self in shape, right?

Barry: Absolutely; yes, sir.

Bob: So, what are you doing in space—I know you have an opportunity to read your Bible, and you mentioned reviewing messages from church. Anything else that you are doing to just stay connected to Christ?

Barry: The Lord gave me something a few years ago that I have been continuing. It wasn’t something I set out to do—it just kind of happened—and that is that I started sending out a devotion to just a couple of people daily / every single day. Over the years, the Lord grew that distribution list. I don’t know how many people are on it now—I haven’t counted—it’s probably 70 or so different emails that I send out.

So, I do that every day—preparing the devotion to send out to those 70 individuals.

Also, I have it posted on my friends and family website. So that, right there, is something that the Lord has given me to keep me in His Word, and keep me studying, and keep me growing—and for that, I am grateful.

Dennis: I just want our listeners to think about where Butch is right now because he’s looking at how this verse is really spelled out—Psalm 8.

Stepping Up in space 3

The Aurora over the US and Canada. (Photo by NASA/Butch Willmore)

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth. You have set Your glory above the heavens!  When I look at the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place; what is man, that You are mindful of him and the son of man that You care for him?

Yet, you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor!  You have given him dominion over the works of Your hands and have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and the beasts of the fields, and the birds of the heaven, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!”

Barry: I can tell you from this vantage point, “majestic,” indeed—praise Him.

Bob: Butch, let me ask you one more question. How often does the sun come up during the day, and how often does it go down during the day for you?

Barry: Oh, there is another blessing!  The sunrises and sunsets here are just amazing. The Space Station—the whole station for about six to ten seconds turns completely orange as it goes through—as the light passes through the atmosphere. It kind of acts as a prism and separates the colors. I get 16 of those a day—fantastic!

Bob: So, is it almost bedtime for you now?

Barry: It actually—it is. I’m going to grab me a quick little bite to eat; and then, I’m going to hit the rack. [Laughter]

Dennis: Well, Butch, thanks for joining us on FamilyLife Today. Just want you to know it’s no excuse that you can’t listen to the broadcast up there. You should have figured that out in advance, but we’ll forgive you for that; okay?

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou finished reading the post “Stepping Up in space” in the Stepping Up men’s blog from FamilyLife.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWhat do you picture as you read the words of Psalm 8 about God’s creation and the special place He has given you?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistListen to Barry Wilmore on FamilyLife Today from the February 6 broadcast and the December 22 broadcast.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistWho could you get to join you to go through Stepping Up as a small group? Pray about it, then go for launch.

Super Bowl MVP: Dad



Just about everyone gets a little excited about the Super Bowl. Even the people who aren’t football fans probably look forward to the halftime show or the creative and entertaining commercials. They’re more interested in the side show than the final score or the MVP.

If this year’s commercials are any indication, there’s already a winner for this year’s Super Bowl MVP: Dad.

This year there are three commercials that will probably touch everybody, man, woman, or child. That’s because they’re about dads, and the fact is that either you are a dad, have a dad, or have a dad-hole you’re looking to fill. The commercials for Toyota, Nissan and Dove pluck all those heart strings.

Dove Men + Care: “Real Strength

This commercial’s been out on the web for a while (it went viral last Father’s Day with 12 million views), but the exposure it will get during the Super Bowl will likely make it a commercial that everybody remembers.

It’s simply a succession of two dozen clips of kids and young adults in everyday life. A swimming pool, a high chair, a wedding. No one says more than one word, but that one word is powerful. Dada. Daddy. Dad.

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The commercial’s text asks a simple question and offers a simple but profound answer:

What makes a man stronger?

Showing that he cares.

Dove’s reminder is that a dad’s strength is his involvement in the lives of his children, from their earliest years to the time they start their own families.

The commercial concludes by inviting dads to share how caring makes them stronger at #RealStrength

Nissan: “With Dad”

Like Dove, Nissan has already been around the internet with its “With Dad” campaign, but they’re keeping their Super Bowl commercial under wraps until the big game. Over the past several months, Nissan has repeated the mantra, “Everything’s better with dad.” It’s a campaign by Nissan’s chief marketing officer Fred Diaz, acknowledging something that every parent in America knows: it’s hard to strike a good balance between work and family, but it’s important to do it.

You probably remember Diaz’s contribution to the 2013 Super Bowl, with his tribute to farmers, with audio narration from Paul Harvey. If that’s any indication of the quality and impact we can expect, the commercial’s sure to be one of the viewer favorites this year. Until then, all we have to go on is this 10-second teaser.

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As for the football connection, you can check out a series of features Nissan did on the NFL Matthews family by searching #withdad on YouTube.

Toyota Camry: “To Be a Dad”

This commercial focuses on the reality of fatherhood, featuring real life stories from dads and their kids. Some are NFL players. Others are just regular Joes. The commercial begins with a simple question:

Is being a good dad something you learn, or a choice you make?

More than a feel-good piece about, say, ginormous horses and fluffy puppies, “To Be a Dad” focuses on how “one bold choice leads to another.” Whether they had a good father or not, these men share about how they are trying to be that good dad, and you can see how they are passing that legacy down to their own children.

At the end of the piece, viewers are invited to become participants by tweeting about their own father. The piece ends with this message:

Honor your dad.
Tweet us photos of him using #OneBoldChoice
to join our big game celebration.

Check out the extended length commercial here.

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As you can see, the commercial is inspiring in many ways.

  • We see men we respect on the field being men we can respect in real life.
  • We see men who started life with a void who are now determined not to let their children know that feeling.
  • We see children talk about how their dads inspire them.
  • We see dads who are humbled and gratified at the impact they’re having on their kids.

We also see some of the damage that’s in the process of being healed. Damage caused to grown men when they were little boys by fathers who weren’t present or who were emotionally detached. These men feel like they don’t have a template to follow and are left to make it up as they go, essentially trying to become everything they didn’t have as they were growing up.

Thankfully, we all have a Heavenly Father whose deep desire is to know us and have us experience all His best for our lives. And thankfully, He’s given us an instruction book that teaches us how to father, not out of our woundedness, but out of His wisdom and love.

My hope is that these commercials will raise the conversation around fatherhood. Hopefully it will spark stronger connection between dads and their kids, and will bring together those men who grew up without dads and those who were far more blessed, all around the conversation about what it means To Be a Dad.

The Song: A film for the restless man



“There is nothing new under the sun.”

As we men strive to find meaning and purpose and to make meaningful connections in our fast-paced, consumer-driven, anything-goes culture, the words of Solomon ring truer now than ever.

“I have seen everything done under the sun. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after wind.”

Three years ago Richard Ramsey and City On a Hill Studio set out to make a film that would speak to modern-day audiences through Solomon’s lifelong quest for real love and true meaning. The writer and director wanted a theater-worthy film that believers and the unchurched alike would want to see and talk about.  As Ramsey says, it is a film for the restless man.

The script and directing are remarkably intentional, making use of biblical allusion, symbolism, parallels and imagery to bring the life and teachings of Solomon into today’s realities. The story line follows Solomon’s relentless search for meaning through wisdom, pleasure, and power, only to find that the elusive answers are not distant, but as close to home as the heart.

The Song, which debuts on September 26 in theaters across the country, uses narratives from the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, masterfully woven into the tapestry of a modern-day story of love, marriage, and meaning. The movie follows the career of Jed King (played by relative newcomer Alan Powell), a struggling musician who’s blessed and cursed to be the son of beloved country music star, David King (yes, the symbolism starts early in the film and poignantly shadows the plot throughout).

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The first five minutes show the rise and fall, redemption and untimely death of his father in a gritty sequence that is foreign to many faith-based films.  While not graphic, the sequence (which parallels the failures of King David) lays the legacy for Jed King and offers a foreshadowing of difficulties to come as he follows in his father’s footsteps.

Jed believes he’s meant to be a singer, not just because of his father’s legacy but also because it’s a gift and mission given to him by God. Struggling to find a breakthrough after being cut from his record label, Jed takes a gig at a local hometown festival where he meets Rose (Ali Faulkner, another relative newcomer).

The two fall in love and marry (no, that’s not a spoiler, because you know the Song of Solomon) and begin their George-and-Mary-Bailey wonderful life. But as with all marriages, the infatuation gives way to distance as the two are pushed away by the busyness of parenthood, extended family, career, and the ever-present search for self-fulfillment. As their emotional and physical distance grows, Jed becomes frustrated and begins searching for fulfillment outside the home in the most obvious place—his music career.

Solomon’s woman of Proverbs 7-9 makes her appearance in the form of Jed’s opening act, fiddle player Shelby Bale (played by Caitlin Nichol-Thomas in her movie debut). Shelby is there when Rose is not, and his heart is further pulled away from home.

Throughout the movie, the dialogue is punctuated by Jed’s narration, directly from Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Proverbs. We follow the story through the bliss of Solomon and his love, and through the search for meaning and pleasure. Each promise of fulfillment ends up empty and takes Jed on his journey further and further from home and his first love.

The Song contains the most extensive use of Scripture of any film I’ve seen except for Jesus, which uses only Scripture. Yet it is far from preachy because it’s Jed own words, narrating his own story of love, loss and futility, a story that ultimately finds redemption and purpose.

This movie will not be the “feel good” movie of the fall season. Ramsey, in his writing and directing, intentionally leads the viewer through the messiness of life and the soul-searching of Solomon. It is heavy and frequently dark, but it needs to be. The man watching this movie needs to feel the weight of foolish, short-sighted decisions.

As a film centered on music, the songs are significant elements in revealing the characters, their struggles, and values. Powell and Nichol-Thomas perform their own songs quite capably. In fact, Powell is a member of the Christian vocal group, Anthem Lights, and Nichol-Thomas is a professional fiddler. One song that won’t be new to moviegoers is The Byrds’ 1965 classic, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” This musical rendering of Ecclesiastes 3 is a favorite of Rose, and plays a prominent part later in the movie.

Although the film ends on a happier note, the heaviness remains with you through the final credits, which is appropriate. Choices have consequences, and foolish choices leave a heart-wrenching aftermath, particularly when it comes to the closest human relationship—marriage. The Song is a cautionary tale for couples. Between the pace of life, the lures of our culture, and the deceitfulness of the human heart, marriage relationships naturally grow apart unless you’re intentionally moving toward oneness.

A selfish act, an unkind word, a bitterness unresolved have caustic results. But authentic love also carries the power of forgiveness and redemption. It is the very thing that has the power to draw someone from the depths of despair to a life that’s truly meaningful.

In an unplanned, deeply personal message to a concert audience, Jed voices this realization:

“You know, when you’re always under bright lights, you can’t see the stars. You forget things. You forget that somebody put the stars there, and that they love you enough to die for you. And it’s that kind of love that makes songs worth singing and life worth living. I had that kind of love and I threw it away. Because I am a fool. I’m sorry.”

Jed was referring to Rose, but what he says applies equally to our relationship to a loving Father, who gave His Son on our behalf. The Apostle Paul (who may be Solomon’s wise New Testament counterpart) reminds us that in the midst of our rebellion, it’s God’s kindness and patience that bring us to repentance (Romans 2:4). He also reminds us that when we’re most unlovable, God’s love reaches out to us (Romans 5:8), whether it’s for salvation or forgiveness.

The marriage relationship is the optimal environment where we can show the undeserved, unconditional love of Christ. It’s probably the hardest place as well. Who knows us better than our spouses? Who can put together the longest laundry list of offenses? On the other hand, who have we let closer to our hearts to see the beautiful and honorable, the vulnerable and needy? Besides God, who better knows the depth of our need for grace and companionship?

And that is the dual message of The Song. As Solomon draws his conclusions in Ecclesiastes:

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

That’s a message everyone needs to hear.

© 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “The Song: A film for the restless man,” by Scott Williams in the Stepping Up men’s blog. 

STEPThink - 10-point checklist

Men are prone to sexual temptation when things aren’t great at home. Read “When men are tempted to cheat.”

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistLearn the “3 Weeds You Need to Pull from Your Marriage Garden” to keep your marriage from drifting toward isolation.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistFind a theater near you showing “The Song” and bring your wife, your friends, or the restless man.

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